In August, the US Army and US Navy selected its new signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft, to be built around a modified Brazilian ERJ-145 passenger jet. The agreement could cost as much as $8 billion in the next 20 years. The $879 million System Development and Demonstration contract is to develop and test the Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) follow-on aircraft. The new aircraft has been designated by the Army as the RC-20 and is to replace the RC-12 Army Guardrail Common Sensor, the Dehavilland Dash-7 Airborne Reconnaissance Low platforms, and the Navys EP-3E Aries 2 aircraft. The contract calls for using an existing commercial business jet to carry electro-optical and infrared systems, synthetic aperture radar with moving target indicator, communications, and electronic warfare gear. Providing the airplane will account for 20-30 percent of the contracts total value, and the first five jets will be built in Brazil, with production then transferring to Jacksonville, FL.
The US Naval Air Systems Command, said that the Army and Navy ACS aircraft are planned to be completely common with the exception of two additional workstations required by the Navy. She explained that the Navy ACS will require six operators vice the Army's four, in addition to the two pilots as the Navy uses a distributed "reachback" capability to analysts on the ground or aboard other aircraft. In this way, the total number of people working a tactical situation is not limited to the size of any one aircraft.
For now, there are 11 EP-3E aircraft with an additional five undergoing conversion from P3-C's to EP-3E's for a total of 16 to meet the minimum of 12 operational EP-3E aircraft at any one time. Initial Operational Capability is planned for 2012 with the first of two VQ squadrons aircraft replaced, continuing until planned Full Operational Capabililty in 2014 with the second squadron transitioned.
There is already an AEW version of the ERJ chosen by the Brazilian and Greece air forces. Merging the ERJ-145 with the Ericsson Erieye Active phased-array, pulse-doppler, electronically scanned antenna AEW Radar and Command and Control System, the EMB-145 SA (Surveillance Aircraft) can serve in border surveillance and control, search and rescue coordination, airspace management, and signals/communications intelligence. The unrefueled endurance is in excess of 8 hours.
With a loaded weight of up to 42,549 pounds, cruising speed of 475 mph, and a range of over 2,100 kilometers, the ERJ-145 far surpasses the RC-12s and RC-7s performance. Weighing less than one-third that of the EP-3E, the ERJ-145 will also be far less expensive to operate.
The Army is to acquire 38 ACS aircraft and the Navy 19. While the Navy plans for initial operational capability in 2012, the Army has already stated it will begin fielding the new aircraft by the end of 2009. K.B. Sherman